Salmon Arm council explores zoning options for prohibiting commercial water sales from public aquifers, will seek legal opinion on possible zoning changes. (File photo)

Salmon Arm council explores zoning options for prohibiting commercial water sales from public aquifers, will seek legal opinion on possible zoning changes. (File photo)

Plans to prohibit use of Salmon Arm aquifers for commercial water sales progress

Council explores zoning options because municipalities aren’t consulted about groundwater licences

Salmon Arm Council is moving forward in its quest to see if city zoning can be changed to prohibit the extraction of groundwater within city boundaries for commercial sales.

Council asked city staff to look into options following discussions triggered by a groundwater licence application to the provincial Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development ministry for a property at 3030 40th St. SE in the industrial park area. The applicant requested the use of water from an aquifer for a water bottling facility.

No decision on the application has been announced.

Municipal governments are not generally consulted regarding such applications within their boundaries, although, in this case, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District was, because it is the owner of the nearby landfill which falls within the consultation perimeter. The CSRD expressed opposition to the plan.

Kevin Pearson, director of development services, prepared a report outlining options that he said came from other communities.

They included a general prohibition of the bottling of groundwater for commercial sales in all zones or, under the definition of ‘light industry’ use, adding the phrase ‘but does not include the bottling of goundwater for commercial sale’ – or a combination of both options.

He said he would be more comfortable if the city received a legal opinion on a proposed change, as legal challenges come up quite often in B.C.

“When it comes to land use and zoning in British Columbia, and permitted uses and what definition of use means, that’s a constantly changing legal landscape.”

Read more: Concerns raised over water licence application in Salmon Arm for bottling water

Read more: More information on Salmon Arm water licence application surfaces

Read more: Council stands firm against using groundwater in Salmon Arm for bulk or bottled sale

Coun. Tim Lavery, who spearheaded the motion to have the city look into changing the uses allowed, said he has discovered that there may already be 19 municipalities in B.C. with similar zoning, and he is fine with getting a legal opinion.

Coun. Chad Eliason said perhaps this issue is similar to the plastic bag ban, where a critical mass of municipalities pushing for it will help the province move ahead.

Mayor Alan Harrison said he thinks Eliason’s point is important, because council has tried unsuccessfully to have input to the water licensing branch regarding private access to aquifers in the city. He said he’s also spoken several times to Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo who has been trying to get clarity from the government about the issue.

“We’re not talking about one application here, but on this specific one, of course we were not asked for consultation, and any consultation that we provided on our own, which were letters, holds no weight.

“So this (changing city zoning) is the only way we can go in order to have input.”

Coun. Debbie Cannon suggested that perhaps staff could speak to Courtenay and Comox Valley officials who have tackled the issue, so as not to reinvent the wheel.

“I’m fine with doing the legal opinion but I really don’t want it to slow down the process because I really feel strongly that I want to see this in place.”

Coun. Kevin Flynn said he’s extremely concerned with the flawed process for approving groundwater licences that doesn’t involve municipal input and he is fine with having a legal opinion on the current proposals. However, he said he is also concerned that an applicant could potentially draw water from within the regional district or First Nations land, leaving the city without the jobs that a water bottling facility might provide.

Council members present unanimously passed the motion to have staff develop the options for regulating land use and get a legal opinion on them. Couns. Louise Wallace Richmond and Sylvia Lindgren were absent.
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